How we test printers
By Andrew Laughlin
Discover how we test printers to find great-quality printers that turn out good-value prints.
Our rigorous printer testing sees premium and budget models going head to head. Best Buy printers turn out good-looking prints, copies and scans, and critically, they don't rack up high ink or toner costs. Discover how our expert tests find the best printers money can buy.
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Why our printer tests are different
Almost all free-to-access websites review printers using an individual tester and come up with scores based on that individual’s preferences. These same sites also typically get printers free of charge directly from manufacturers or their PR representatives.
But Which? is different. As well as using multiple testers in a lab-based scenario, our own overall percentage score is calculated purely on the measurements and ratings supplied by the lab, meaning there's no room for unconscious bias when giving an overall rating. We also buy every single printer we test, and do not accept free samples for any of our full lab tests.
What are Which? Best Buys and Don't Buys?
Best Buys are given to printers that impress the most in our tests. A printer that scores 70% or more is a Best Buy and comes with a firm overall recommendation, although you should still read our printer reviews to check for any weaknesses that might impact your buying decision.
Meanwhile, printers that score 45% or less are flawed Don’t Buys.
- Best Buy printers are the best at turning out high-quality prints. Your money will go further with a Best Buy printer – our top-scoring models won't cost you a small fortune in ink or toner.
- Don't Buy printers aren't worth your money. They're a pain to set up and are often let down by fiddly controls, low-quality prints and grainy copies.
How is the Which? score calculated?
The Which? overall score is a percentage. This score only takes into account the results of our tests and ignores price completely. This means that all printers are tested on exactly the same scale, so you can compare any printer at any price, and know how it measures up against its rivals in key areas. All printers are tested in the same way, regardless of the manufacturers’ claims.
Weightings and star ratings
A Which? overall score is made up of dozens of individual tests and checks, from key factors such as print quality, print speed and ease of printing. This means that the most important things – such as the quality of a printer's colour copies, will more greatly impact a printer’s score than whether or not the machine is loud.
To keep things simple, the most important scores are shown as star ratings out of five on each printer’s Test Results page as an easy-to-compare list of strengths and weaknesses, so you can quickly work out whether a printer is right for you.
How the overall printer test score is calculated
Our key testing criteria
Below are the key testing categories and how we evaluate each one:
Key question: Does this printer turn out impressive mono and colour prints?
We test print quality for letters, photos and graphics pages containing charts and graphs, plus those made up of text and images - such as a web page. Our expert-panel assess and rate prints for colour accuracy, sharpness and overall print quality. We even check whether prints will smudge under a highlighter pen or will smear if they rub up against something in your bag.
From connecting to your home network and printing from laptops, tablets and smartphones to clearing the occasional paper jam, we assess how easy printers are to live with.
We check whether printers can automatically print double-sided to the same standard as single-sided prints without changing the format of your documents. And to avoid the frustration of being left with half of a printed report when a cartridge runs out, we check whether you can still print using the other cartridges while you wait for a replacement.
Key question: How fast is this printer for everyday tasks?
We’ve seen printers take more than half an hour to produce a single A4 photo print, while the best need just a minute and a half, and don’t compromise on quality. The quickest printers turn out 18 text pages per minute – three times more than the slowest printers.
We time the print speed of different types of documents and how long a printer takes to turn out the first page after you switch it on. A slow starter will leave you waiting a minute and a half for your first page.
Key question: Can you be sure you’ll get cost-effective prints?
Ink cartridges can be expensive and there’s no way of knowing if a printer will be cheap to run just by looking at it.
Many printers automatically clean themselves when you're not even printing, using precious ink. Our unique ‘occasional printing’ takes weeks to run – and captures the cost of any ink used for automatic cleaning, so you’ll know which printers will be cheapest to print with at home.
By weighing ink cartridges before and after our printing tests, we can work out the amount of ink used for printing and lost on cleaning. The worst offenders use four times more ink when you leave time between print jobs, compared with printing the same number of pages in one go, cranking up your ink costs.
Key question: How well does the printer replicate the tones, colours and contrast of the originals?
Our printer tests put scan and copy functions under the microscope. We also check they don’t chop off any part of the original as well as timing how long different types of page take to scan and copy from black text to photos.
Pick the perfect printer with Which? reviews
As you can see from the graph below, there is a significant difference between high and low-scoring printers for each price bracket. Without enlisting the help of our expert reviews, you risk buying a printer that will frustrate you every time you use it. Spending more money doesn’t always guarantee a Best Buy.
Browse all our printer reviews to find your perfect model.